Get in The Arena: Risking vulnerability through creativity

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Last summer, I finally finished the book “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. The title, and much of the content of the book, are inspired by an excerpt from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt called Citizenship in a Republic.

This well-known section is called “The Man in The Arena”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

WOW OK OUCH DON’T HOLD BACK THERE, TED.

I was floored, convicted, inspired. “Cold and timid souls”…I had to look at myself. Was I really doing anything? Was I just talking about being Creative, or was I getting some dust on my face? Was I risking, or was I content to stand back and judge from a distance? For me, my Arena was in writing, in creativity. I knew I had to get out of my fear and get a little risky.  This quote still regularly inspires me to criticize less, and hit “Publish” more.

For the longest time I lived my life in fear of what others might say. I still have that hang-up from time to time.

I was so used to hearing negative things about other people and what they were doing, and I was so used to doling out that same criticism, that it paralyzed me.

I knew if I put myself out there, I would be the recipient of the same level of criticism that I had given out. But looking back, you know what? Rightly so.

One of my favorite quotes is by Joseph Chilton Pearce and it reads,

“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” 

If I was to create anything of value, I realized I had to accept a few things :

– Criticism is a very real possibility.

– I might do things wrong and create a lot of garbage along the way.

– I have been wrong in my judgement of other creatives.

Getting in the arena is not for the faint of heart. But you know what else? By creating and trying and sharing, I’ve never felt more purpose, more alive, more humble, more compassionate, more grateful, more brave.

In jumping out of my seat in the stands, here are some hard lessons I’ve learned:

You may roll your eyes at people who are making music that’s not your style, you may scoff at art that you think is silly, or writing you find contrived, but ultimately it doesn’t matter if you think you can do better—

Are you doing anything? At all?

Are you out there on your own, risking being seen?

Are you trying and failing?

Are you using your gifts and learning and growing more than you’re criticizing?

Until your answer is “yes”, you really don’t have a valid place to critique.

Sure, you can have an opinion, have your tastes, but it rings hollow when you judge from the safety of stagnancy.

And even then, I often find that those who are truly risking, truly in The Arena, creating things with their whole and honest hearts, are among the least judgmental and critical souls you’ll find. They know what it’s like to be completely vulnerable and exposed on a regular basis. They’re bold and tender and scared and brave, because they know how stupid they could feel, but they risk it anyway.

What can you risk?  What stirs in your soul? What do you have to offer the world?

And are you doing it? Are you in the Arena?

…Oh, may it be said of me.

So come on, get out of your seat.

Sure, it’s scary, but it’s brilliant out here. 

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